Introducing My Inner Juan Pablo

65

March 7, 2014 by Katia

What I really want to scream out loud is:

Bachelor

Hola, my name is IAMTHEMILK and if we haven’t met yet, it’s ok.

Seven years ago I moved to Canada and for the very first time in my life I found out what it meant to be an actual outsider, as in an outsider somewhere which is not called “inside my own head”.

With the status of outsider came some newly gained skills:

An “I-have-no-f*&$ing-idea-who/what-this-celebrity/politician/national hero/hockey player/significant event/childhood commercial-you’re-having-a-conversation-about-is-but-it’s-OK” smile.

It's-ok

An “I-did-not-understand-what-you-just-said-even-though-you’ve-used-words-that-I-know-but-arranged-them-in-a-way-I-wasn’t-expecting-into-an-unfamiliar-idiom-and-spoke-really-quickly-so-none-of-this-registered-in-my-head” generic cop out response.

A well hidden “OMG-I-said-“I don’t care”-when-I-should’ve-probably-said-“I don’t mind”-and-now-they’ll-think-I’m-a-jerk” scare.

And a full on “OMGOMGOMG-I’m-totally-blanking-on-an-English-word-here-talking-to-my-boss-they’re-going-to-notice-that-I’ve-suddenly-gone-mute-mid-sentence-and-think-I’m-crazy/an idiot/incapable-and-let-me-go” masked-panic attack. This is so NOT OK.

Despite being raised by first generation immigrants and thinking that I was familiar with the set of challenges that comes with the territory, the range of mildly to wildly unpleasant emotions described here were all first time discoveries for me.  Which is why I don’t expect or assume that anyone who hasn’t actually moved countries and switched languages should be able to appreciate this. I get that you don’t understand it and really, It’s ok.

When you move to a new country if your mindset is positive you find ways to make your permanent stay there a pleasant one. You find reasons to justify your move. Typically you concentrate on things that cannot be found in your home country, like fresh Brussels sprouts or fresh episodes of El Bachelor. I’ve written before about being slightly addicted to this bottomless pit of bad taste and fireworks of cringe- inducing metaphors and like everyone else I was rooting for the newest bachelor, charming Juan Pablo.

If you don’t share my passion you may or may not be aware of the recent scandal revolving around the bachelor’s controversial statements on gay relationships. You may have also heard his explanation that the statement was taken out of context and yes, that English is his second language.

Let’s make it clear: I am not here to defend anti-gay views – I actually haven’t watched a single Olympic game or event this year due to my disgust with the hosting country’s medieval views and policies, including their anti-gay position – I am here to defend the POSSIBILITY that a non-native English speaker could form a terribly poor sentence in English.

Those criticizing Juan Pablo are referring to his “frequent” use of “English is not my first language” as a cop out and they may be right. But what if we entertain the idea that a non native English speaker’s statement that we may not have used your language correctly is valid. Don’t be so quick to dismiss it.

I’ve used “English is my second language” to explain myself before. Imagine being a soccer player transported into a hockey field, or a hip hop dancer on a classical ballet stage, while we get that we are expected to play hockey and pirouette we may take a few extra clumsy steps to get there. While to those living in a reality where the words you say completely match your intention and those you hear never leave you baffled, might think that “English is my second language” people may occasionally require clarification of certain words and that about sums it up, there is so much more to that “EIMSL” state.

Watching an episode where one of the contestants was explaining to Juan Pablo that his “it’s OK” comes across as dismissive and reflects indifference and lack of interest in his conversation partner, I was getting increasingly anxious. As someone who often pairs these words together I felt myself falling back into my “newcomer mode” assessing myself, examining the contexts in which I’ve used “It’s ok”, wondering whether the parents in Four Year Old’s school, the service providers, cab drivers, candidates I’ve interviewed, colleagues at work and basically anyone I’ve ever met in Canada is under the impression that I’m the rudest person they’ve ever interacted with? The worst part was that I came back empty handed. See, I don’t have that internal  mechanism that native speakers possess to help me determine the answer to such questions.

What I am capable of evaluating and assessing, however, are displays of mob mentality. They look the same everywhere, even if they’re well-intentioned and applied in the name of protecting crucial values such as equality. Tell you what, if you pursue political correctness and equality, like I do, then it’s not ok to shift into an all-bets-are-off gear and decide that the rules of political correctness no longer apply to someone who may not hold them himself and that making fun of a person’s accent on TV in front of a snorting audience while ridiculing his pronunciation repeating “Iss Ok-eh” over and over again IS OK*.

If you’ve decided that you’re over this particular bachelor in light of his potential views, you have every right to be and it’s ok, but don’t make one person’s potentially ignorant views de-validate my reality. English is my second language, is SO too a thing.

***

* Referring to this Monday’s Women Tell All episode where contestant Andi Dorfman ridiculed Juan Pablo’s use of the expression.

If you’re interested in reading more about the psychology of being an outsider, I’d refer you to one of my favourite blogs on the planet, Finding Ninee. Kristi’s blog is one to follow and not only for her series Our Land where she curates posts about the various aspects of living in a land of empathy and wonder and how to get there. I wrote a post for her about immigration awhile ago.

***

This was an FTSF post on the topic “What I really want to scream out loud is…”. Please visit the fabulous hosts:

Stephanie at Mommy, For Real

Kristi at Finding Ninee

Kate at Can I Get Another Bottle of Whine?

Janine at Janine’s Confessions of a Mommyaholic

This

65 thoughts on “Introducing My Inner Juan Pablo

  1. The Rider says:

    We who use English as a second language salute you! Where I live, English is seldom heard. But I do understand it… I could have said: “Goeiemiddag al julle gawe mense, wie verstaan hierdie pragtige taal wat ek nou hier gebruik?” Who would understand me? OK Charlize Theron would, bless her!

    • Katia says:

      So I guess I’d have to call Charlize Theron or Google translate to my aid!😀

      Thank you so much, I was nervous about writing this, I don’t want it to come across as though I support ignorant views. I just don’t support ignorant views on any side…

  2. Even though I have always spoken English as a second language and I have only ever lived n one country (US) all my life, I can imagine it must be hard for those who are using English for the first time as a second language. Like you I am not giving ignorant behavior a pass by nay means, but do think this does have to be taken into account. Thanks for sharing your views on this Katia and also for linking with us this week.

  3. This is a great post!! And you’re right. I’m sensitive to this as someone who taught Spanish–there are so many nuances in language. Hell, I have dictionary.com open EVERY time I write a blog post … and I use the thesaurus a lot. There are many times that I choose the words I use based on how I feel about them and what additional connotations there are. For people who speak English as a Second Language, that stuff often is missed.

    I’ve said it a million times–I think English would be a terribly difficult language to learn secondarily. Kudos on this post!

    • The Rider says:

      English is a nightmare to learn. Our language doesn’t have 1/10 of the words of English, and only 3 tenses. And then the spelling… that is really a challenge. On top of that England had two wars against us at the end of the 1800’s so we grew up with the notion that it is the language of the Antichrist. But all that is forgiven and nearly forgotten now… But the language… a real challenge for us!

    • Katia says:

      I so appreciate your comment, thank you so much! I am glad that it didn’t come across unnecessarily aggressive!

      I love that you use dictionary.com when you write your posts. This is the kind of responsible attitude toward language that I was taught at home and this is why I panic so much about saying the wrong thing, or the UBER-dreaded making a grammatical mistake…

  4. Claire says:

    I totally agree with your points, but it seems like Juan Pablo conveniently doesn’t understand common phrases when it is advantageous for him not to. He understands everything a girl says until she says something he doesn’t want to hear.

    • Katia says:

      Thanks, Claire. Yes, it’s very possible that he, indeed, is a jerk, I’m not denying this, I’m just saying we probably don’t know and shouldn’t dismiss the validity of the argument “English is my second language” altogether, selfishly meaning – I don’t want to not be able to explain myself if I made a faux pas and have people pass judgement on me that they formed through watching The Bachelor. Hope that makes sense…🙂

  5. As an English-is-my-first-language Canadian I salute you Katia! Bravo to speaking up about this. I abhor it when people make fun of others’ English pronunciation and have been known to snap on many occasions “Ok you try speaking in their language.” As for the usage of “it’s ok”? … I applaud you as I stumble along with “de nada.”

    • Katia says:

      Thank you so much, Kelly! I observe the educational system in Canada as unravels itself to me through my four-year-old and I really admire the indoctrination of accepting all cultures, which I think is reflected in your comment. I am not comparing Canada to the US in this respect, since I’ve never lived there and can’t draw such comparisons, I am actually comparing Canadian tolerance to what I’d often encountered in other countries I’ve traveled to or lived in.

  6. I live under a rock and have no idea who Juan Pablo is… but I’m currently texting with a Colombian friend in Spanish, my fifth or sixth language… and I cause her such hilarity and occasionally such pain… When I talk in my native language with my family in Poland, they howl at what I say all the time, and I don’t understand any of their idioms or expressions–despite the fact that I’m nominally fluent, accent-less, and can read-pronounce-define any individual word. Language is fascinating.

    • Katia says:

      Your Polish is my Russian. I speak fluently and well. I can read and understand, but I’ve never learned grammar and spell phonetically. I am also not familiar with certain newer idioms and old Russian used by poets like Pushkin. And, yes, I agree, language is totally fascinating!

  7. bethteliho says:

    Oh, I didn’t even know about the Juan thing (she says, lifting the rock she’s under). This is a great post, Katia, because language is intensely fascinating to me. I would certainly crumble in failure if I had to move anywhere where English was the 2nd language! I can’t imagine how hard it is for people to learn a new language, especially English – it’s the hardest one to learn, and its rules make completely no sense 60% of the time. I most definitely have sympathy and admiration for those that are able to speak more than one, and I’m officially obsessed with people who speak three or more! WOW.

    • Katia says:

      Thank you, my friend! I started learning English very early, so moving to a new country and starting to use it on a daily basis wasn’t the same kind of insurmountable task to me as it is to other immigrants, however, I’ve definitely felt stuck and clueless and can absolutely understand how your mind and language and even foreign mentality can play tricks on you and stand in your way when you’re up to the simple task of forming a sentence. Thank you so much for understanding, my friend!

  8. findingninee says:

    I love you. When I was in France (I do not really speak any french at all), I remember trying to order a sandwich. I chose my bread, turkey, cheese, lettuce, etc. all in almost-french and the guy waited for me to be all done before saying “I speak English, American.” I felt so stupid and a little dirty, even. While it’s nothing close to continually speaking a language that is not your native one every day, all day, at jobs and in taxis and EVERYWHERE, I get that feeling of “oh no, what did I say?” So I do think that Juan has a good excuse. It’d imagine it is hard figuring out the nuances of certain expressions. I didn’t see The Bachelor so I don’t know about his intent or not (and if he DID intend to bash gay people then he SUCKS) but I do think it’s great of you to give him the benefit of the doubt.
    And thank you SO much for the lovely shout-out at the end. You’re so wonderful.

    • Katia says:

      I had an experience like that in France back in 90’s when I was in high school and it completely turned me off from ordering in French ever again.

      I think we have to give him the benefit of the doubt and thank you so much for your awesomeness. My mind is as dry as a desert right now, but I love your comment!

  9. Jean says:

    I am doubtful about ole’ JP but it had nothing to do with his language. I think it does everyone a world of good to put themselves in that situation at least once in their life. As I told my students for years, YOU are the amazing one for knowing more than one language so what if sentence structure is off every once in a while, IT’S OK! (I watched, by the way, and I loved how he aggressively OK’d her back) When I was in Spain, my go-to word was Vale. Vale’s translation? I’m pretty sure it’s OK. 🙂

    • Katia says:

      I loved how did that too!

      I think it’s so awesome that you did this for your kids (that is your other kids…). I’m sure it stayed with them as did you.

  10. Lizzi R says:

    Katia, once again your words have rendered me OUT of my first-and-only language.

    WOW!

    This is powerful, compelling and absolutely FASCINATING stuff. Thank you so much for sharing, with such detail and clarity, your perspective as someone with (as we call it here) EAL (English as an Additional Language).

    I love how you describe your emotions and your strategies.

    And FYI, even native English speakers have a ‘what the hell was that word that I wanted to say and ohhhhhh this is embarrassing…’ moments. Just perhaps not as often.

    You! Wow😀

  11. The Waiting says:

    By the looks of your writing, your grasp of the English language is stronger than mine, and I’ve been speaking it my entire life AND I collected two degrees in it! When I lived in Korea, my aptitude for learning the language and speaking it fluently can be summed up in one anecdote. Once, I decided to order a glass of water in Korean (I know, big spender.) I tried over and over and OVER to do this correctly, until I finally broke down and ordered it in English. After doing that, the waiter understood what I was saying. Le sigh.

    • Katia says:

      😀 Well, I wouldn’t write your skills off so quickly. I’m sure Korean is very difficult to learn without any previous exposure to Asian languages (which I’m assuming you didn’t study before?). I actually think it’s awesome that you tried. And tried before giving up. It sounds very similar to an experience I had in France.

  12. It is funny how we as humans get very territorial. Language seems to be an easy divider. For me, I’ve never traveled out of the US. (I am sorry to say.) Whenever I encounter someone who is using broken English, they always seem very eager and wanting to communicate. I can’t see how anyone could be offended by that. Great post.

    • Katia says:

      Thank you so much, Jamie! I agree, most of the non native English speakers who immigrate make an honest effort. I think your observation on being “territorial” towards language is spot on!

  13. First things first: I have no idea who Juan Pablo is or what he said. I’m sure he’s a douchebag like the rest of the reality show douchebags, so to me, guilty until proven innocent in this case.

    BUT! The English as a second language thing – so spot on! I have often marveled when realizing that English is not your native tongue — you are SUCH an amazing writer, one of my favorites, and that is no small feat.

    Second, I completely relate to your issue, but in the other direction. When I lived in Italy I once seriously insulted my then-boyfriend by calling his dad “old” (vecchio) when I meant more “an elder” (grande). It’s the small nuances in a language that really get you. I still say silly things in Italian because it is my second language. So yes IS a thing. And is ok.🙂

  14. Of course English as a second language is a thing! I recently read a hilarious post about the differences between American English and British English at beckysaysthings dot com. You might get a kick out of it.🙂

  15. Stephanie Sprenger says:

    Beautifully done, my friend. This post is not questioning gay rights, or whether or not it is ok for a public figure to demean gay people. It’s shedding light on the potential that there is TRUTH to Juan Pablo’s explanation. This line says it all, I think: “I am here to defend the POSSIBILITY that a non-native English speaker could form a terribly poor sentence in English.” Thank you for bringing attention to this in such a carefully constructed way, thank you for reminding us to give people the benefit of the doubt, and thank you for reminding us of the hypocrisy that exists within this controversy. xoxox

  16. Sarah says:

    OK, I am completely ignorant of anything “Bachelor,” but applaud anyone standing up and arguing for the side of forgiveness and/or understanding. Too often the liberal view can become prejudiced as well, believing that all who do not see the world the same way are bad, bad people. And that’s from a very liberal liberal.

    • Katia says:

      So true! I think that’s what bothered me most about is that the biggest attackers are doing this in the name of liberalism. Great observation!

  17. I don’t know why we need to explain our self. I was in a craft store (Micheals) and I was ask why I don’t shop at Hobby Lobby.
    Do I need to go in detail 24/7 on decision i make.

    Coffee is on

  18. Aussa Lorens says:

    Interesting! I’m kind of insulated from this whole discussion because I don’t have a TV so I don’t know anything about Juan Pablo or his possibly anti-gayness but you’re very right about the mob mentality thing– I think it can be amplified even more so because of the interwebs. And you’re definitely right about the 2nd language thing– English speakers probably need to give everyone a break, particularly if they don’t have a 2nd language themselves, ahem.

    • lrconsiderer says:

      OWOWWWWWWW You DON’T?!

      That’s so totally awesome🙂 I thought I was the only one in the Blogosphere who didn’t…

    • Katia says:

      Oh, I’m sure the interwebs amplifies that sort of thing. You’re totally right. I often think, and I’ve written about it before, that the interwebs is at least partially responsible for our willingness to pass a quick and uninformed judgement.🙂

      • Aussa Lorens says:

        Most definitely. It’s scary like that… we all want to grow our traffic and widen our audience but it’s a double edged sword when you find yourself being discussed elsewhere and people are quick to the hate.

  19. Sarah says:

    This is so interesting, Katia. And even with English, there are different expressions in British English vs. American English that cause confusion, or even regional variations in expressions in the US. Such a good reminder that we need to understand the context of these comments.

    • Katia says:

      That’s true! I’ve worked with a British girl in my last job and my colleagues would constantly stare at her and try to make sense of what she was saying. The funniest thing was that I often was the only one to understand!

  20. What an awesome post. I love this, Katia. I love your addiction to El Bachelor too and your tweets about it. They make me laugh.

    There seems to be this expectation that you need to speak clear English to be respected, especially in rural America (but I know you’re in Canada). Very little grace is given to people who don’t speak English clearly which is pretty sad considering how difficult it is to learn a second language. I admire people who can even begin to understand a second language. I’ve tried to learn a few, Chinese being the most recent. It was not easy and I didn’t get very far (3/4 way through Level 1 of Rosetta Stone). I couldn’t even have a short conversation with a group of Chinese people at the park when I was there last. I said the wrong things and felt like a complete idiot – they laughed. Fortunately, I was able to laugh too, but if I lived there all the time, I wouldn’t be laughing – probably crying. Because of that whole outsider thing.

    When I was in my 20s I had a friend that was Russian. I never understood why she always hung out with other Russians – seriously, I didn’t get it. Was she anti-American? Then I went to China for the first time and felt cut off from everything I knew during a difficult transition (adopting our first son) and all I wanted was to be around other Americans. I wanted to talk about every day things I knew, like pop culture, or just our culture in general. I wanted to feel like somebody understood me and like I wasn’t an outsider. I finally understood, to a very small degree, what she was feeling.

    • Katia says:

      I love your perspective here, Kate. I love the story about your Russian friend and your ability to compare your own feelings in a similar situation to hers. I find that so many people refuse to walk in other people’s shoes or open their eyes to the parallels between their own situation and someone else’s.

      And I absolutely adore the fact that you’re studying Chinese. Kudos to you. It must be SO difficult.

  21. Tarana Khan says:

    English isn’t officially my first language either, and I know what you mean about cultural remarks. For instance, when I first read your headline, I had no idea what you were talking about…see?! Sometimes, I’ve had to read up on certain people/subjects before replying to a comment making a native reference. It’s so much harder to do that in actual conversation! #FTSF

  22. Dana says:

    There are so many nuances to the English language – I can certainly understand how easy it would be for non-native speakers to make unintentional mistakes. It’s ridiculous how quickly Americans (I can’t speak for Canadians) jump to criticize those who don’t speak English perfectly. Especially when most of us speak ONE language only moderately well. I appreciate your perspective Katia!

    • Katia says:

      I haven’t thought about this way, Dana, but I suppose you’re right and would be more justified for someone who actually attempted to learn another language to criticize someone else who aren’t fluent in their second language.

  23. […] What I really want to scream out loud is: Hola, my name is IAMTHEMILK and if we haven’t met yet, it’s ok.  […]

  24. Rhonda says:

    Sometimes I wish I could say “English is my second language so I made a mistake.” Unfortunately, I’m just really good at shoving my foot in my mouth and not expressing myself well.

    I can buy that he made a wording mistake. I don’t find “it’s okay” offensive at all. Actually, I think the girl made a big deal out of nothing in the “it’s okay” department. As for whatever else went on between them, who knows.

    • Katia says:

      Thank you, Rhonda! I kind of suspected she might have been offended by something else (like being compared to another contestant) and took it out on him tying it into the ‘it’s okay” thing.

  25. At the rate English is going downhill with all the Twitter speak and texting in abbreviations, I say until you can speak perfect English yourself, don’t just anyone else’s! My Dad passed away in 2007 and was cremated. Because he was a veteran, we had his ashes interred at the national cemetery on Cape Cod in one of those wall units. Being limited to a certain number of character spaces, we had a hard time deciding what to inscribe as his epitath, so when we finally went to the cemetery for the service, I was curious to see what others had written. I was stunned! There were many that I couldn’t even figure out, and my sister and I were left laughing at others wondering what future generations would make of it all when wandering through. Some seemed completely disrespectful, but that may only be how we were reading them. It was all very strange. [#FTSF]

    • Katia says:

      I admire you for finding some lightness in such a difficult situation. And isn’t horrifying to thin that something that represents eternity is laden with grammatical mistakes??? GAH.

  26. Katia,

    We MUST talk! As a fellow Bachelor addict, I am on JP’s side in all of this. I don’t think he’s using “English is my second language.” as an excuse at all. If you listen to him talk, you can tell that he doesn’t always understand what everyone says and often even asks for clarification. Renee and Sharlene both came to his defense on this, and yet the other women bashed him for it. Get a bunch of hens in the room, and they’ll peck you to death. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to live in a place that does not speak your native language. Especially, as English is the most difficult and challenging language to understand and learn. Frankly, it rarely even makes sense to someone who has spoken it her entire life.

    You should check out http://hellabuzzed.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/the-bachelor-the-women-tell-all on Tuesday mornings for his Bachelor recap if you’re not offended easily. He’s hilarious.

  27. […] and creation versus evolution.  I resumed ignoring him again.  True story, I was reading iamthemilk  but outwardly, I said the obligatory, “mmm hmmm.  Oh?” and “Really?” nodding my head.  […]

  28. Mike says:

    This is the weirdest Saturday night since I can remember. I still feel like I’m dreaming. I pinched Phoenix’s tail, my Golden Retriever, he stole my ball cap. That always happens…the ball cap, not the pinching his tail part. I was just looking for a reality check. I pinched myself. Yep, that felt real. FOUR times tonight….for real deal…FOUR…your name has come up independently Katia. First of all, where are you from originally? Read your About page. Are the planets in some sort of bizarre alignment tonight? Just tons of weird going on. And I Am The Milk comes up several times. So here I am again. I just never asked where you were from the first time🙂

    • Katia says:

      Yes, the pinching of the tail is much weirder than the stealing of our less dignified objects, which dogs are so fond of…🙂

      I’m originally from Israel and the parents move there from Russia and Latvia, so really I’m a hybrid. You?

  29. Nina Badzin says:

    I don’t watch The Bachelor, but I still appreciated your analysis of what can happen with language in these situations.

    And on a total side note, I was listening to a CD of one of David Sedaris’s live shows. In one of the essays he’s talking about a trip to Australia, which he described as “basically Canada in a thong.” I thought you’d appreciate that!

    • Katia says:

      HAHA! I totally appreciate it. Wonder how he would describe Canada to Australians “Australia in long Johns”?

      You’ve made me smile! xo

  30. Aishaz says:

    Hi Katia,

    English Language is my second language too and I teach English Language to Maldivian students (their second language) and I understand what exactly you mean. Its a difficult language to master but we are doing ok🙂 Keep posting and enjoyed reading your article.

  31. Lisa @ The Golden Spoons says:

    Such a good point! I am not familiar with JP at all and don’t watch the show, but I know English is a very difficult language to speak and, I’m sure, to learn. People shouldn’t use that as a cop out for mistakes, of course, but others need to show a little understanding as well.

  32. Jen says:

    I used to watch the Bachelor religiously when we had a DVR. It’s been a few years now but I still totally get your point, and anyway, the losers can be nasty.
    My grandmother spoke 11 languages, I am still unclear on which was her first. But suffice it to say that even after almost 60 years of living and being completely integrated in the US, she still got plenty of things wrong, and would still turn to me and speak to me in French thinking she was speaking English!

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